2012 Mets: Santayana, Salfino and welcoming the impossible

Edmund Burke said, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”
George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Some variation of these two quotes is repeated today in nearly every field of study. In the case of the Mets, in 2012 it is used to combat the conflicting ideas of the team’s current record and its runs scored and allowed.

One of the basic truths of the game is that a team’s record can be estimated rather reliably by examining their runs scored and runs allowed. Bill James came up with the formula, which he dubbed the Pythagorean Theorem. Let’s investigate the Mets’ actual record, along with their Pythagorean record for the past five years.

2011: 77-85 Actual, 79-83 Pythagorean
2010: 79-83 (A), 81-81 (P)
2009: 70-92 (A), 72-90 (P)
2008: 89-73 (A), 89-73 (P)
2007: 88-74 (A), 86-76 (P)

We can see that the team’s record has been accurately predicted, within two games, in each of the past five years. Of course, each year there are always outliers – teams that stray from the Pythagorean record by more than four games. All teams in the NL East in 2011 were within four games but in the NL Central, the Brewers exceeded their Pythagorean record by six games while the Astros underachieved by the same amount.

This year, with just over one-quarter of the season in the books, the Mets have exceeded their Pythagorean record by five games. In Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, my Facebook friend Michael Salfino wrote that the Mets were on pace to post an 87-75 record while being outscored by 122 runs. Salfino did research to put that in perspective.

”This would be a rather historic achievement: All-time, the worst run differential by a winning team belonged to the 1905 Detroit Tigers (minus-90), who went 79-74.”

The issue is that the Mets are winning the close games and losing in blowouts. In games decided by one or two runs, the Mets are 15-6. In games decided by five or more runs, they are 4-10. Conventional baseball wisdom says that the good teams know how to win the close games. The reality is that a team’s record in blowouts is much more predictive of their overall quality.

We want to believe that the Mets really are an 87-win team. But to do so we have to ignore history. Or we have to come up with reasons why history doesn’t apply in the case of this particular team.

The Mets have played 45 games and have been blown out 10 times. Each week they get blown out once and sometimes they go down in flames twice. And to make matters worse, eight of those 10 blowouts losses have been by six or more runs while three of their four blowout wins have been by the minimum five runs. The Mets have lost 14-6, 8-0 and 18-9. In their 14 blowouts, in which they posted four wins, the Mets have been outscored by 48 runs, which can really mess with a team’s run differential

How likely is it that the Mets will continue this current pace of being blown out, and having their losses be by larger amounts than their wins? In nine of their 45 games, Mets starters have failed to pitch five innings and seven of those nine games resulted in a blowout loss. Meanwhile, in the NL their have been 90 times when a SP failed to go five innings and only 21 of those resulted in a blowout loss.

If we remove the Mets, the rest of the NL has had 81 times when the SP did not go 5 IP and 14 of those ended in a blowout loss. The NL average without the Mets is to record a blowout loss in 17 percent of games where the SP does not pitch enough to qualify for a win. The Mets get hung with a blowout loss in 77 percent of these instances. Also, the NL average without the Mets is to have a pitcher go fewer than 5 IP in 12 percent of their starts. The Mets have a pitcher knocked out early in 20 percent of their starts.

So, Mets SP are getting knocked out earlier 67 percent more than average and when they do get knocked out, the team is over four times more likely than average to get a blowout loss. Call me crazy, but I don’t see either of those Mets ratios lasting over the entire season.

Undoubtedly, it will help if the Mets get better relief pitching. Last night Mets relievers allowed 5 ER in 5.1 IP. The team has already gotten rid of D.J. Carrasco and Manny Acosta will be close behind if he doesn’t start getting better results ASAP. Perhaps Pedro Beato or Josh Edgin (or if Brandon Lee has his way, Jenrry Mejia) can help turn things around in middle relief.

Of course, while the Mets are likely to improve in blowouts, they are also likely to tail off in their record in games decided by fewer than three runs. The team’s record in one and two-run games is at a pace that would produce 116 wins over a 162-game season. Again, this is not a pace likely to last.

As the season plays out, the most likely thing to occur is for the Mets’ run differential to move closer to even (currently at -35) and the team’s winning percentage to move towards .500 (currently at .533). Of course as fans we root for the non-David Wright hitters to improve and for the bullpen to provide some actual relief. But those things happening would result in a better run differential, which would not thumb its nose so much at the Pythagorean results.

Let’s break out another quote from Santayana.

”All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible.”

History has proven that it is impossible for the Mets to achieve the same results over 162 games that they have received over 45. But what better time than the end of the Mayan calendar to welcome the impossible? As a fan I’ll sign off on the weekly drubbing in return for a .714 winning percentage in the close games.

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